My business is too small!

It may seem that the strategies and tactics we talk about here that are intended to improve your business might relate solely to bigger businesses. A company with lots of staff, a big office and plenty of cash can make these things happen easily, right? And these things apply only to those bigger companies, at least, that’s what you might be thinking. Thing is, that really isn’t true. If your first thought tends to be “my business is too small to do that“, give yourself a chance. Step back a bit and look deeper at what we’re trying to accomplish and let the complexity fade to the background. The key is to pan for gold: find the fundamental outcome that these discussions are about.

A small company will almost never implement things the same way a bigger one would. That doesn’t mean that the small company shouldn’t implement them. Both have the same fundamental needs, like more sales, better leads, faster delivery (or something), and so on.

For example, the discussion might be something that seems complex, like a marketing calendar or lead curation. Both of those things may seem like overkill for a small company – but neither of them are. If we drill down into what they’re trying to accomplish, I think that will become evident.

Let’s talk about what lead curation really is. Why? It’s a great example of one of these “bigger business” things can be implemented by a small, or even one person business… Even if you think “my business is too small”.

What is lead curation?

Leads come into your reach in different stages. They might be ready to buy. The late Chet Holmes said his experience showed that three percent of your market is always ready to buy. The other 97% might be researching, recently decided to investigate, may have determined that their existing solution isn’t doing what they need, and so on. Out of 100 or 100,000 leads, you will find natural groupings like this.

If someone is ready to buy, your sales team (even if the entire team is you) needs to know they’re ready so that someone can start a “ready to buy” conversation with that lead. If someone from your team (or you) have an early-in-the-process kind of conversation with them, you may lose them.

A lead who has recently started researching solutions like yours will likely be put off by a sales person who opens a “ready to buy” conversation. Someone else (or you, if there is no someone else) needs to have the kind of conversation with that lead that will help fulfill their research needs as it relates to your product. This might be the time to provide them with a comparison form (ie: buyer’s guide) that helps them make a purchase decision.

For each stage a lead is in, the conversation that the lead needs to have with your sales team (or you) is a conversation that helps them come to the conclusion that it’s time to move to the next stage. Bear in mind, they don’t necessarily think in these stages, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

That is but one example of “something your business should do”. It’s a good example of something that a bigger company might have software or some sort of system to manage.

You may not have or need those things, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t important to your success and growth.

“My business is too small for lead curation”

Based on this description of lead curation, it’s not a size thing. It’s all about having the right conversations with people based on where they are in the process of deciding to buy. The smallest company needs to do this – and in fact, the smallest companies are both awesome and horrible at this. You’ll either see them having the same conversation with every lead (horrible), or they will cater very specifically to each lead (awesome).

For a small business, figuring out how to perform lead curation and keep track of what has been done to move your leads through each stage of buying is still important. It isn’t important how the smallest of small businesses does this. It isn’t important how the bigger business does this. It isn’t important that the bigs and the smalls use the same tools or techniques.

What’s important is that it gets done.

How to take the chill out of a cold email

With double digit below zero weather arriving in Montana this week, the last thing any of us need is a cold email.

What I call a cold email isn’t quite the same as a bulk email. While bulk email is indiscriminately sent to many thousands of people, a cold email might be sent to 10, 50 or 100 people. Bulk emails are seldom effective as lead generation tools, while cold emails can be an effective lead generation tool from a somewhat targeted list.

What is a cold email?

Cold emails are often written from templates and sometimes are pasted into an email program before they are sent. Sometimes, they’re mail merged (ie: personalized), sometimes not. Template-based, mail-merged emails aren’t a bad thing until you send a generic one to the decent quality lead with a message that makes little sense.

Who gets a cold email?

They’re often sent to people you might have seen or heard of at a Chamber of Commerce event – but you weren’t introduced to them and you didn’t meet. You might have their email because of a list you have (or bought) access to, such as an industry group list or a list of trade show attendees.

You might have manually harvested the email addresses from web sites of companies that might be a good fit for your services. For example, if you serve small bakeries, maybe you Google’d “bakery northwest montana”, found a list of bakeries within 100 miles, then grabbed the owner name and email from each site.

While that shows a little effort, it can all be lost depending on your next move.

The trouble with cold emails

Cold emails don’t often get a response, because their content simply doesn’t encourage you to read them, much less take action.

Cold email failures:

  • The subject line doesn’t provoke you to open the email. Instead it says something like “sender’s company name product category”. Example: “Smith-Jones Systems – Point of Sale Software”.
  • Your content is so general that it shows you made no effort to understand the recipient or their needs, so it reads like every other spam they receive.
  • The email is written from the “me, me, me” perspective (talks about the company and its services) rather than talking about the reader.
  • Your email reads as if it came from a template. While the slightest bit of work could make it personal, that effort wasn’t invested.

Making a cold email personal

This email is your proxy. If you read an email you sent last week, does it sound like you? Is it the introductory conversation you’d have in person with a prospect? My guess is that it doesn’t and it doesn’t.

The email needs to speak to a specific problem. What problem do most bakeries have that your point of sale (POS) software solves? Bakery owners don’t wake up in the morning thinking “Boy, I sure wish someone would try to sell me point of sale software today.” Yet these same bakery owners might be thinking about how annoyed they are about the inability to predict shift coverage based on sales levels, print tax reports, produce custom order tickets, add stations, or some other thing. Their staff may have complained about other problems with their POS.

40% of your clients may have used a specific POS and moved to yours because of three specific benefits, differences or improvements. Do you know what these prospect bakeries currently use? What do their people think about it? Given that 40% of your clients used that tool, you should have some specific info for bakeries still using that old POS. Send a specific email to users of that POS vs. bakeries using other software.

Observation

Have you been in their bakery and bought something so you can see how the staff reacts to working on their registers or POS stations? Did you sit there, as appropriate, and have a cup of coffee while observing how things go when they are busy? Did you listen for comments from the staff?

While you don’t want to fill an email with ALL of this info, this knowledge is critical to understanding why a baker would want your POS.

Sure, these emails are more laborious to produce, but your job is to get new clients, not see how many emails you can send.

You don’t send marketing email? This knowledge also applies to phone and in-person sales calls.

This year, customer follow up will be different.

For many businesses, two things happen this time of year. One: You get a bunch of new customers. Two: Many of the new customers you acquired during this time last year “forget” to come back. The customers on the first list cost time and money to acquire. A fair amount of the people who “forget” to come back were never asked to. In other words, the business didnt invest the time / money for new customer follow up.

There is a problem with this concept. Being able to follow up requires having some contact info for your clients. These days, people are all too used to being nagged incessantly, mostly by mail and email. They’re also concerned about privacy and identity theft, which increases their reluctance to provide you with their contact info.

Why they think you’re a spammer

While it keeps the FCC and others “happy” to publish boilerplate privacy and security policies, most people either won’t read them or won’t care that you have them. Until given a reason to think otherwise, they will group your request with all the ones they’ve received before. This means that you will be thrown into the bucket with the companies who used their contact info inappropriately.

Inappropriate doesn’t necessarily mean illegal but the net impact on the business is roughly the same.

While many marketing people and business owners think otherwise, they don’t get to decide what is spam and what isn’t. The recipient does. The legal definition is irrelevant. No matter how good you think the message is, the recipient decides whether your messages are out of context, incessant, annoying or of no use. If your new customer follow up message matches any of those criteria, they will unsubscribe, opt out and might even stop doing business with you.

Even worse, they will group you with all the other spammers and be super hesitant to provide you with information in the future – even if you need it in order to serve them as they wish.

Poorly conceived customer follow up has a hard cost

Spammers are of the mind that they can send millions of emails for free. They have the luxury of not caring if they retain a “customer”. You do not. They have the luxury of not caring about the cost of a lead, much less the lifetime value of a customer. You do not.

When you send a message that feels to your customer like spam and it causes them to unsubscribe, there’s a hard cost associated with that. Think about what it cost to get that person to visit your store or website. We’re talking about labor, materials, time, consultants, employee salaries, service costs, etc. Every lead source has a cost and a ROI. The latter comes from the lifetime of that client relationship with your company.

When your message causes the client to unsubscribe, your lead cost rises and your ROI is likely to drop because the lifetime customer value of that person or business will probably stagnate.

Great, so how does my customer follow up avoid this?

Expectation management.

When they provide contact info these days, people have questions about the use of their contact info:

  • How it will be used.
  • How it will be shared (short answer: DON’T)
  • How it will be secured.

You have to be crystal clear (and succinct) when answering those questions. You have to adhere to what you said. Stepping outside the bounds of what you said you’d do, even once, breaks what little trust was granted when their contact info was shared.

Whether you feel it’s justified or not, people are hyper-sensitive to this. If you want to build a lifetime customer relationship with them, your behavior has to show it.

A suggestion

Everyone likes getting stuff on their birthday. It doesn’t have to be a (heaven forbid) 50% discount. You don’t need their birth date – which they will be protective of due to identity theft. You only need the month. During their birthday month, a simple offer or add-on that is special to them is all you need. Do you have any low cost, high perceived value services that could be given away with purchase during their birthday month? Make sure it’s clear to them that you will use this info to send them something of value during their birthday month – and stick to that.

The alternative is to keep paying more for leads. There are only so many people in your market. Nurture your clientele and show them you’re always thinking about how to help them. Win the long term game.

Do your sales efforts have a smell or an aroma?

Sales is tough work. One of the things that makes it challenging is starting a conversation with someone you don’t know. This can be particularly difficult when they know you are primarily interested in selling them something. As Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” Nowhere is that more evident than at a trade show, where people will avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a “sales hat”.

Even so, trade shows offer ideal opportunities to talk to (usually) vetted prospects, assuming you’re at the right show. These face to face opportunities provide an often-unparalleled chance to learn about your prospect. Body language & facial expressions help you determine if the questions you ask and the responses you provide are resonating with your prospect’s needs and wants. These physical cues are not evident during a phone call or email exchange.

Avoid the hat

In order to benefit from these valuable face to face conversations, you have to start them. Getting these conversations started requires you to engage with someone. This requires that the attendee accepts the engagement rather than ignoring you, looking away, staring at their feet or simply saying “Nope”. Trade show exhibitors try all sorts of tactics to provoke an interaction, including attractive women, giveaways (tchotchkes), and refreshments.

Giveaways are most common. Some lame, some extravagant, some in context with their business. There’s an opportunity here for much thought than you typically see. Common rubber footballs, pens, pads of paper, and so on – much of it never makes it home, much less back to the hotel or office. These giveaways are rarely thought through well enough that they are designed to make a connection to the product or service being sold. We’ll come back to that.

I don’t see too many so-called “booth babes” these days, but they do exist, particularly in the automotive industry. In 30+ years of trade show time, I have seen one coherent use of them – when costumed in a way that connected their presence perfectly into context with the product being sold. Interestingly, this involved costuming intended to appear as if it came from the movie “Edward Scissorhands”.

Refreshments are the other area (besides giveaways) where you see a broad latitude of items. Whether it’s numerous forms of candy, airline-esque bags of peanuts/pretzels, to more imaginative setups like serving locally-brewed root beer in boot-shaped shot glasses from a cowboy-themed booth at a trade show in Texas.

And then there are the booths that recognize Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – specifically giving away things that are all but irresistible. These are things, per Maslow, that tie back to the lower tiers of the hierarchy, delivering a feeling of safety / comfort and home. These are the booths with freshly cooked bacon (not kidding) or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. The latter is what I’ve seen perform the best.

The aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies is incredibly disarming to most people. Even the folks who don’t want a cookie seem obligated to explain why – which starts the conversation. Stop long enough to have someone hand you a warm cookie and most will pause to take a bite or two, and feel enough obligation to answer a qualifying question or two. Before long, the conversation is started.

Remember the point of your “gimmick”

Lots of money gets spent on these things. Much of it is spent without much thought or planning, at least from my perspective. Never forget the primary reason why you’re exhibiting at a trade show and spending that money: To start the process of making a sale, or at least, to gather leads. A gimmick to get people to stop at your booth is solely to make it easier to start a conversation. Your booth and pre-show marketing ties into all of this and should contribute to the process of creating / provoking these conversations.

Years ago, I had a fishbowl in the booth. The fishbowl contained a number of our competitor’s hardware dongles. Providing the dongle to us was a requirement for new clients to get a cross-product discount by abandoning the competitor’s product for ours. A bowl full of dongles sent a powerful message and it prompts people to stop. It’s a curiosity. It creates a conversation.

What are you doing to create these conversations?

Buying decisions are personal

One of the challenges we have when running a business, and more importantly, when trying to make a sale – is understanding what makes our clients, buy (or not buy), run away screaming (or some such). They have their own reasons which may (or may not) relate to you and the actions you and your business have taken while dealing with them. Combined, these things are yet another complex reason why buying decisions are another angle at Business is Personal.

Personal to them, not simply to you.

Why they don’t buy

Many times, the reason they decided not to buy has nothing to do with you. It’s personal.

Business is Personal to them because their transmission went out over the weekend, or their best friend’s niece is in the hospital, because the basement flooded at home so for the next few weeks, they probably don’t have time to install and configure that software you’re trying to sell them (or it no longer seems important), or they got into an argument with their spouse last night and that RV is no longer important… until the argument is forgotten and the lure of being in the boonies (with a little comfort) is important again, or their daughter got a full scholarship to a college 2500 miles away and now your spouse is a wreck because the reality that their little girl is growing up and leaving the house has hit home and distracted everyone.

For now, that is.

Distraction is personal

The things that change your prospect’s minds, or put off their buying decisions are countless. Most of them are personal. The phone rang and their mother wasn’t feeling well. The teacher called and their son needs to study harder. Some of them are not personal. The boss emailed and they have to go out of town next week. Priorities changed for any number of reasons.

These are not reasons not to buy, or reasons to buy – but they impact your clients every day. Life is quite often more important than your products and services. You might have the best RV in town, the best service department, the best price and the best financing, but today – none of that matters and it’s not your fault. It just is.

It’s easy to get discouraged when this is going on, but that’s the one thing you can’t allow for. You can’t give up. You can’t assume that they changed their mind because your product or service aren’t good enough, or your salespeople aren’t good enough, or your price isn’t cheap enough. There may be occasions when one or more of those conditions are valid, but most of the time – that isn’t the problem.

Distraction is.

People’s lives don’t revolve around your product or service until they do, and then they don’t 19 hours later when the phone rings or that email arrives.

Why they need your patience… and your reminders

Engagement is critical. Nurturing is critical. Both play a role in your business and do far more than keep your name in front of them. They remind your prospects that something you sell was important to them a few weeks ago before they were distracted by something that was important to them at the time.

Seems like a simple thing, but the difference between re-engaging with a prospect, getting the conversation back on track and eventually completing a sale, vs. “unexpectedly” losing a formerly hot prospect is the difference between a re-engagement follow up and waiting around for the prospect to figure out that they were going to buy something that at one time or another was important to them.

It’s work. It’s marketing. And it’s the kind of re-engagement effort that is often the difference between reaching next month’s revenue goals…. or not.

What stage?

A critical aspect of your re-engagement effort is gauging where your prospects are along the buying timeline. It’s not really a timeline though. It’s more like a set of behaviors about-to-be buyers exhibit when they’re at a certain point in the process of buying. Years ago, Perry Marshall and his crew noticed that when someone searched Google for “guinea pig”, it meant they were ready to buy, vs when they searched for “guinea pigs”, they were doing pre-purchase decision research.

Study your buyers’ timelines and use what you learn to create a re-engagement plan. You’ll need communications appropriate to re-engage people at each stage of the purchase timeline.

One sentence can make or break a campaign

As we’ve discussed before, I still believe that well written direct mail works when it is done properly because I see the results. While much of it is “junk”, there are folks out there producing high-producing mail pieces. What do I mean by “high-producing”? I mean mail that survives a trip from the PO Box or the mail box to the kitchen table, then gets opened, then gets read, then prompts the recipient to take action.

If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, fix it, or stop doing it unless you’re willing to fix it. Many have taken the second option, believing that it no longer works.

Each of those steps must be successful for a piece to be high-producing. Otherwise, the piece gets tossed at the post office, or on the way home, or on the way from the street-side mailbox to the house, and so on. Even if it does make it to the kitchen table, it has to meet the smell test to get opened, and then again to get read and so on.

About that one sentence

That one sentence occurs in your mail piece multiple times. Anything that appears on the face of a mail piece can be the one sentence that either provokes someone to keep the mail or toss it. This same cycle occurs for the face of the mail piece, the back of the envelope, the headline and salutation on the letter inside, and every sentence thereafter.

Too many mail pieces (and emails) ignore this simple progression. It’s a conversation. If you’re standing in front of someone talking with them to both understand what their needs are and help them understand how you can help them, you’re doing the same thing. If you say something that breaks the trust you’re building with the prospect / client you’re speaking with, the conversation is effectively over – which is the equivalent of your mail piece going into the trash.

Remember, your email or your mail piece is no more than a proxy for you standing there. It needs to be in your voice, while reflecting your perspective and expertise. I find that reading these things aloud before sending helps me write them in my voice. When I read something written in a way that doesn’t sound like my voice, it feels terribly obvious as soon as I say it out loud.

Do your emails sound like your voice? Do the things you put in the mail sound like your voice? Sounding like you, i.e.: using the words and sentence structure you use is the easy part. It’s crucial to convey your message with your personal credibility and desire to help the client. Perfect it one sentence at a time.

What about the one sentence that can break it?

There’s always a risk that a mail piece will go down in flames at any point between the PO Box / mailbox and the kitchen table. The aforementioned smell test isn’t a one time thing – it has to be passed at every step of the way.

The one sentence that can break it and make all the effort and expense of sending that piece is the one that destroys your credibility.

I received a letter like this last week. Someone tried to be clever on the face of the envelope and trick the reader into opening the envelope. While it probably worked on some people, it will destroy the credibility of the sender with many other readers. At best, that piece will go straight to the trash, which is how I handled it. With others, it could create some blowback to the organization who mailed it. With some, it could make that organization all but dead to the reader.

You obviously don’t want any of these things to happen. It may seem like a waste to spend a couple of paragraphs to remind you of this possibility, and I simply do so to make it clear that every step in the process of reviewing, opening and reading the mail is an opportunity to both provoke interest and lose it.

These same challenges affect your email pieces, blog posts and any other materials you place in front of clients. In fact, the same can be said for a face to face conversation you have with a client or prospect.

Selling, marketing & Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam

Last week, I met a couple of old college buds in Southwest Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton range (near LaBarge) to take on Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam cutthroat fishing challenge.

This would not be easy. Four cutty subspecies in four different drainages – some of them in the tiniest of water (water shoes rather than waders), with two guys who are much more experienced than I am in the fine art of selling to fish.

This effort would be much like marketing and sales in a tough market with a prospect who knows exactly what they want and will accept nothing less. The parallels are fairly obvious: your message (fly), your presentation (cast) and your careful selection of the right prospect (in this trip, only four subspecies mattered).

Early on, unheard and unseen

For the better part of two days, I caught nothing. You would have thought I was making carpet cleaning offers to people with hardwood floors, or trying to sell family minivans to folks who live 20 miles off the highway on a rough dirt road.

At some point late on the afternoon of day two, one of the guys mentioned to me that the local hoppers were a good bit bigger than the flies I was using. Sending the wrong message (fly) to the wrong fish is no different than sending the wrong message to the wrong prospect (or sending any message to the disinterested).

So I changed my message.

Before long, the change in fly size improved my luck, at least until the last day. Ultimately, the Grey’s River contingent of Snake River Cutthroats never responded to my cold calls on that last day, perhaps due to an early morning downpour.

How’s your message working?

Obviously, the point of this story is to provoke you to take a look at the messages you’re sending and who you’re sending them to. For retailers, the most important sales and marketing period of your business year is ramping up. For those who serve tourists, what you do in the “off season” is as important. No matter what you sell, knowing that the message you send (even if you use “inbound” marketing) is being seen / heard by the right people and is context with their needs is critical.

Wrong message, wrong destination equals wasted money, time and effort. Even a little bit wrong is enough for someone (or a fish) to think “Oh, that’s not for me, I’m moving on.”

You’ve heard this before, but have you thought deeply about it? Think about the messages you get each day. How many of them truly grasp your interest? It doesn’t matter how clever or funny they are if they’re not about something you care about or are interested in. How many of these messages are about something you’re really interested in? How many of those convey a message that motivates you to actually take action?

That’s the critical eye you need to use when looking at each message you’re sending, whether sending a postcard or using the latest, greatest sophisticated inbound marketing tool.

When that fish fails to strike, you know why (sort of). It’s the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong depth, the wrong time of year, etc. There are so many different ways to serve up the wrong fly – and it’s no different for what you use to communicate with prospects and clients.

Big (Fish) Data

Wyoming Game and Fish’s Cutt-Slam is, among other things, a combination of clever marketing and inexpensive data collection.

For the price of some record keeping, photography, a website, some color certificates (for participants who complete the Slam) and some cutthroat subspecies info, the Cutt-Slam provokes fly fishing enthusiasts to purchase licenses, eat and stay in Wyoming, fish the state’s southwestern waters and report details about the fish they caught, including date, location and a photo.

What this provides to WY Game and Fish is a litany of data and evidence about the progress of their efforts to repopulate the state’s four cutthroat subspecies – without sending people out on the road.

It’s a smart way to get people to visit, fish and help you with your project’s data collection – all at the same time.

Likewise, it provides a lesson on creativity and thinking about how to do more than what you have to get done – and how to involve enthusiastic experts in a way that benefits them as well.

Get one new client a day, week, month

It’s not unusual to talk to business owners who want to double their business, even if the discussion is a bit unfocused at first.

It’s far more unusual to find someone who wants grow their business by 1000%, IE: 10 times its current size. Some have said that growing a business by 10 times is easier than doubling it because of the changes it forces upon all aspects of the business. Easy probably isn’t the word, but it makes sense logically because you know you’d have to rethink every process from one end of the business to the other.

Doubling the sales of a business tends to result in doing things the same way, but doing them twice as often, or somehow doing twice as many of them. With that in mind, the idea of doubling your business might leave you wondering where will the time come from or who will do the work. Reasonable questions, I think. Even if that sort of growth seems possible, it might not seem reasonable, no matter how attractive it sounds or how confident you are that you could handle it.

While I’m not trying to talk you out of that kind of growth, and I’m confident that almost every business could use more clients, I know that not everyone is sure how they could make that happen, or how they’d handle the load if they did manage to double the business.

Instead of reaching for 10x or 2x, let’s keep things as simple as possible for now by starting with getting one new client in whatever timeframe makes sense for you.

Start with one

Keeping it simple… How would gaining one new client per day, week or month do for your business?

Perhaps your business isn’t structured in a way that one new client per day could happen, or perhaps you couldn’t deal with 30 new clients a month. What about one new client per week? If your clients require lots of time and effort, perhaps you could only handle gaining one new client a month or even per quarter. What impact would result from gaining one new client per day, week, month or quarter? Do the math on whichever timeframe makes sense for you.

How often do your clients return? If you have 365 new clients a year from now, and you keep adding one every day, how does that change your business? Even if your typical client spends only $10 per purchase, one more per day is a step in the right direction, particularly as these new clients return.

Bring some context to “get one new client”

For a little daily context, maybe you get one more dinner reservation, one more kayak rental, one more room filled, one more table turn, one more styling appointment, or one more portrait setting per day. If you maintain this month-in, month-out, what’s that mean to your business? What are 30 more table turns, 30 more rentals or 30 more room-nights worth to your business per month?

For some weekly context, perhaps you get one more home to clean, one more weekly cabin rental (or one more rental week in the shoulder season, if you have such a thing), one more legal consultation, one more pack trip or one more bookkeeping session.

Naturally, you may wonder how you would get that one more client. One easy way: Think hard about how you’re getting them now. If your lead flow numbers vs your sales numbers tell you that there are leads you’re losing, not closing, or simply not ideal for – dig deeper. Examine each lead source, each media, each referral source. Where can you find one more? Repeat the process.

Why only one?

You might be asking why only one new client per day, week, month or quarter? Simple. If you can figure out what you have to do to gain only one in the timeframe that works for you, then the path should be clear to your long term sales goals. By consistently getting one more, you’ll know you can do it as well as how to handle the growth. Whether you do what it takes to do that one, five or ten times – the choice is yours.

One critical piece – it helps to know what’s working. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

18 questions to increase sales

This week, I’ve been working on metrics because I can’t have my fingers in every pie at once – at least not once the number of pies grows beyond my ability to manage them all in my head at the same time. Even if you can do that, it’s very difficult to sense where changes are happening much less where trend directions are changing.

Some of this can be done by gut feel because you’re right in the middle of it, but sometimes gut feel will burn you because you filter what you’re experiencing through existing expectations. Thus the need for metrics – so that you don’t have to spin too many plates at once, assume too many things or make decisions based on too much gut feel.

Metrics are questions, too

Metrics are a form of question.

For example, a common metric for businesses with a web site is “page views”. A page view metric asks the question “How many people saw a specific page this month?”. When all of those page view metrics are combined, it becomes the question “How many people saw our website?”

Website metrics are pretty common and easier to collect than metrics from other media – which are often on you and your team to collect. The work to do that might seem painful, but you can learn a lot from it.

How many people called about the radio special you advertised on KXXX? How many people visited the store and mentioned the radio special you ran on KXXX?

These things are important so that you know whether to invest in marketing that item on KXXX vs. marketing something else on KXXX, vs. marketing anything at all on KXXX.

You would do the same for anything else marketing on any media, otherwise you’ll have nothing other than gut feel to help you make these decisions. Traditional media doesn’t often provide these metrics, because they can’t. Radio, TV and print newspapers can’t do that because they usually aren’t contacted by prospects seeking whatever you advertised. It’s tough to know if you aren’t part of the transaction process.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track them.

The right questions help increase sales

Coming up with the right question can be a lot harder than not having the answers.  You have to be careful to ask open-ended questions designed to tell you what you don’t know, rather than asking questions designed to confirm your assumptions.

Where is the profit in your business that you haven’t yet found?

For most people, the answer probably lies in your existing customer base. The next question I’d ask you is how many of your customers are buying 100% of what they should be/can be buying from you?

How can your current customers help you find that profit?

The natural follow to the previous question.

To rephrase it, what percent of your customers are giving you all the business they could? Who are those customers? What actions will be necessary to either sell to the ones who aren’t buying everything you make, or determine the ones who won’t buy?

Once you’ve identified the ones who won’t buy, it’d be good to identify why they won’t and correlate that (if possible) with where they came from as a lead. Are the leads who buy some buy not all (or who buy once but not ongoing) leads who came from a certain type of media or a certain type of marketing campaign?

Are the ones whose initial purchase is different than the ones who do keep buying – and buy it all? Can that be solved by pursuing slightly different leads, or by changing marketing or the product / service?

Finally, can / should that gap be fixed? Does it matter if this group of clients aren’t recurring buyers, or that they don’t buy everything you offer?

Are you communicating with customers optimally at all touch points?

Are there touch points you aren’t thinking of?

I was chatting on Facebook with a reader earlier this week who owns a locksmith business. After our conversation, I wondered if there was an opportunity to get involved in home and/or commercial property sales – ie: lock / key / lockset changes that might be warranted when a property changes hands.  It’s an opportunity to get a new client if there are enough buyers who want locks changed at purchase time.

Does your business have secondary transaction opportunities like that?

The care and feeding of leads

Last weekend, we did a little shopping for a “large recreational purchase”. We hadn’t shopped in this market before, so you wouldn’t have been surprised that I would have my radar fully unfurled to analyze all pieces of the process.

While I can’t say that I was blown away, I also wasn’t substantially disappointed. Let’s talk about the experience.

What happens to new leads?

We walked from the parking lot to the showroom without interruption, but in short order (less than a minute), someone at the reception desk (who was busy when we walked by) called out to us to see if she could provide some guidance. Perhaps we looked lost, but I got the idea that this was normal, whether the shopper is lost or not.

Yep, she could provide some guidance. She asked what we were looking for and a sales guy appeared pretty quickly. He engaged, asked good questions to find out what we were looking for and in what price range and then asked if it was ok to produce a plan for us.

“Produce a plan” in their lingo meant to enter a rough cut at our needs into their software, which would produce a list of their inventory items that matched our stated needs. This gave the guy what amounted to a shopping list (including lot locations of their best fit items in their inventory), which was designed to show us only what we fit while saving us a little time.

Given that their inventory is quite large and spread out all over creation, this seemed like a reasonable step. They clearly are not setup for self-shopping, and given the inventory and space you’d have to cover in order to do that, this is a good thing.

I have seen a similar process used effectively in real estate, but at that time, we were turned loose with a list of properties and placements on a map. The give them a map and turn them loose idea works for real estate as long as the prospect knows the areas covered by the map – since the prospective buyer would also know what neighborhoods or locations they aren’t interested in. Where possible, this info should be gathered before producing the map.

The idea in this case was to use the time to travel the lot, learn more about what we’re looking for and show us a few things that will help us determine what we really want, vs. what our newbie first-impression-driven wants might cover.

Talking to leads

As we progressed through the plan’s list of inventory to check out, the conversation was all about the salesperson’s experience with their purchases, questions about what we did and didn’t like about each inventory piece and some perhaps not so obvious tips about sizing, minor differences between each piece that could make a major difference in our experience and similar.

We discussed his background with the purchase we are looking at, and how he earns his customers for life – including the newsletter he mails to them each month. We’re talking about a newsletter with tips, a photo of his family, a recipe and news his clients need. A smart step that I rarely see.

As we reached the end of the plan, it was clear to us and to the sales guy what was going to work and what wasn’t. While we weren’t ready to nail down a purchase right that minute, he did ask – and as I told him, I would have been disappointed in his sales training and skills if he hadn’t.

You have to ask. You don’t have to be poster child of bad sales people, which he wasn’t.

Improvements when handling leads

While the sales process was not annoying (kudos for that), the lead handling process needs fixes.

  • No contact information was collected. Without contact information, they have no way to check in (without being pushy) and see how they can help us. Giving us a business card and a brochure isn’t enough.
  • We weren’t asked if we wanted to get his newsletter.
  • We weren’t asked why we stopped there instead of the litany of competition, or if this was our first visit to a store like theirs.
  • We weren’t provided any info to reinforce that we’d chosen the right dealer.

Leads must be nurtured and cared for by both your people and software systems.